The Tigers missed the NIT, and Tubby Smithâ€™s second season with Memphis has come to close. This is the first time since the 1976-77 to 1980-81 postseason drought that Memphis has gone four consecutive years without qualifying for the postseason. The Helmsman sports reporters Patrick Graziosi, Caleb Hilliard, Christian Fowler and Abigail Warren and sports editor Jeremiah Graham gathered to discuss the season and the swirling rumors regarding head coach Tubby Smithâ€™s job status.
1.How would you grade the Tigersâ€™ season?
Graziosi: An uninspiring C, and thatâ€™s being kind. The Tigers outpaced preseason American Athletic Conference projections by finishing fifth, but they missed the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season. This grade is buoyed by the players who, despite being under recruited and under appreciated, never gave up and displayed a lot of fight during a late season run marred by swirling coaching rumors.
Hilliard: I would give the Tigers a C. The majority of the teamâ€™s roster had never played together before this season. Tubby Smith had to implement an entirely new system, and the team did not buy in until late in the season. Memphis had some inexplicable, bad losses this year, but the season was saved by the deep conference tournament run.
Fowler: Iâ€™ll give them a B for this season overall. Although 21-13 is not great by Memphis basketball standards, this team fought extremely hard. Even with most of the Memphis media dogging the team constantly, they continued to fight.
Warren: Iâ€™ll give them a B. At the beginning of this season, I did not expect them to make the NCAA Tournament, and they did not. However, the Tigers were predicted to finish ninth. This team of new Tigers finished fifth in the conference and was able to win several games even after their top scorer, Jeremiah Martin, was hurt. This is the best season Memphis has had since missing the tournament four years ago.
Graham: Iâ€™ll give them a B minus. This team never once lacked in terms of effort, and they should be commended for that, especially with the off-court drama. However, they had many bad losses this season to teams they had no business losing against.
2. Were you surprised about their performance in the conference tournament?
Graziosi: Not really. It is not like the team went through a murdererâ€™s row of opponents on their way to the conference semifinals. Memphis basketball should defeat the likes of South Florida and Tulsa more times than not.
Hilliard: I was surprised. Memphis lost to Tulsa and USF earlier this season, so I was uneasy watching the first two rounds. The Tigers also played well during the first half of the semifinal game versus No. 8 Cincinnati but ultimately were bested in the second half.
Fowler: I think their performance in the conference tournament was pretty surprising. They really played tough and carried some momentum from their last few games. They came very close to beating Cincinnati, and they were even up by 13 points at halftime.
Warren: Those tournament games were close. I was really surprised with the first half of the Cincinnati game. Memphis struggled in the beginning of the second half but only lost by 10 and scored 60 points. In both previous matchups against Cincinnati the Tigers scored 48. I was definitely surprised with the fight the team showed.
Graham: They didnâ€™t really surprise me. They played well down the stretch of the season, and I had a feeling they would win at least a game.
3. Whatâ€™s your take on the Penny Hardaway rumors? Would he be a good fit as coach?
Graziosi: Two years ago, I did not side with the Penny Hardaway supporters because I did not believe he had the coaching chops to return the program to relevance. But after witnessing two uninspiring seasons that would make Tic Price blush, I am willing to try anyone who can recruit top-notch talent. Memphis basketball is a year-round sport, and Hardawayâ€™s AAU connections will give the city and program the shot in the arm it desperately needs.
Hilliard: I believe Hardaway would fit in well at Memphis. He has a great connection with this city, and his popularity would make more fans come out to the games. Hardaway would also attract more homegrown athletes due to his ties with high school basketball in Memphis.
Fowler: I think the rumors are awesome, and I would love to see it come to fruition. Hardaway is a guy who loves and knows Memphis very well, and I feel like he would be a great fit for the job. Also, it does not hurt that it would put Memphis as a top contender, if not the front runner, for a lot of top local prospects.
Warren: Hardaway would not be a good fit for Memphis. Itâ€™s a risky hire. The man is an excellent coach at the high school level. However, if you hire the Memphis legend and he fails, you have to fire him. That would be awkward on both ends.
Graham: Memphis basketball, like Texas or Florida in football, is all about recruiting. Itâ€™s a year-round job like Patrick said. With Hardawayâ€™s AAU ties, this is a match made in heaven. Plus his potential staff of assistants like Larry Brown and Tony Madlock can offset his inexperience. This program needs a shot in the arm, and Hardaway provides that.
4. Does Tubby deserve another year? Why or why not?
Graziosi: Under normal circumstances, yes, but Memphis is anything but normal. The city and the program possess high expectations and deservedly so. Theyâ€™ve competed at a high level since the Gene Bartow years in the early â€˜70s. You canâ€™t go from eating filet mignon for over 40 years to settling for chopped steak. Tubby has taken a Mercedes and turned it into a Pinto despite a top -15 national budget.
Hilliard: Tubby Smith deserves to be the head coach for the 2018-19 season. He possesses the ability to lead the Tigers to success in the future. I understand Memphis fans being impatient with the veteran head coach, but trust the process that it takes to rebuild a program.
Fowler: Although the Tigers finished pretty strong down the stretch, I donâ€™t think there is anyway they can justify keeping Tubby if they can get Hardaway. The influx of talent Hardaway could bring is way above anything Tubby will get. The coaches who Hardaway has been contacted to join him would fit very well with a first-time college head coach.
Warren: Coach Smith deserves another year. Two years is not enough time, especially when you consider all the players who Josh Pastner recruited left at the end of last season. Many of this seasonâ€™s players are expected to return and after more than a year of playing together and the return of Jeremiah Martin, the Tigers should make the tournament next season, but if a new coach comes, you can expect another mass exodus.
Graham: Tubby is a good man, and he can coach, but with Memphis itâ€™s more than that. Itâ€™s about bringing excitement to the program, and you do that by recruiting. Tubby has not done that, which is inexcusable given the top budget and local high school hotbed. It is time for a much needed change.